By Beige Luciano-Adams
Editor’s Note: Inside Santa Monica is a new occasional column offering readers a quick survey of issues and events impacting the city.

Jean Valjean, Bon Vivant

Santa Monica police recently ran down a young man gripping a bottle of champagne — who immediately apologized and allowed a search of his bulging backpack, where officers discovered another five bottles, all bearing security sensors and labels from Vons. All in, $617 worth of bubbly. And $1,000 bail.

Stealing bread is classic, pragmatic, righteous; stealing champagne is a spirited wink, a whimsical peccadillo. The gross travesties of our criminal justice system aside, perhaps there should be a get-out-of-jail-free card for repentant holiday champagne thieves.

A Big Blue Boost

Developers and mobility advocates are already jockeying for position in the $120-billion work schedule funded by the recent half-cent sales tax increase to fund prodigious public transit overhaul throughout L.A. County.

While speculation about public-private partnerships orbits massive undertakings like the Sepulveda Pass (currently slated for 2024), the most immediate effects may be seen in local returns and boosts to existing transit lines: Santa Monica’s financially struggling Big Blue Bus will be getting a cash infusion of nearly $9 million to help fund expanded service around the Expo Line.

The federal government’s Near Zero Engine Incentive Program is also extending an $870,000 reward to upgrade the fleet’s clean fuel engines. And, starting Jan. 1, riders ages 5 to 18 will be able to buy a monthly pass for $19 — thanks to a pilot program approved by the city earlier this month.

Even More Movement

Plans for a new Rapid Transit Bus along Lincoln Boulevard from Santa Monica to LAX — currently slated for the faraway galaxy of 2043 — could be moved up, according to Move LA Director Denny Zane, who says “Metro staff is pretty focused on finding acceleration strategies.”

And at the top of Metro’s Expenditure Plan, the Airport Metro Connect / 96th Street Station (and future access to the planned Automated People Mover) inches closer to its projected 2018 groundbreaking with the recent approval of a final environmental impact report.

Winterer Is Coming

City Council members have unanimously voted in Councilmember Ted Winterer as Santa Monica’s next mayor, replacing Tony Vasquez, with Councilmember Gleam Davis to serve as mayor pro tempore.

Winterer received a warm welcome from Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce members the following day at their holiday party, held at the tony Jonathan Club. “Here the business community is a partner with government,” he said, noting their mutual interest in ensuring “quality of life for residents and visitors.”

New Year, New Rights

The city’s aforementioned focus on quality of life issues arguably also extends to local workers, who can look forward to new rights in 2017 when the city implements requirements for employers to expand paid sick leave from the state minimum of 24 hours to 32 or even 40 hours per year.

Employees will accrue one hour for each 30 worked, with sick leave starting to accrue after the first 90 days of employment. For businesses with fewer than 26 employees, it will be 32 hours starting in January and 40 in 2018; for larger operations, 40 hours this January and 72 the following year.

The change comes as part of the city’s move to bring minimum wage increases in line with Los Angeles city and county, incrementally, to $15 by the year 2020. The first 50-cent increase, to $10.50, took effect in July.

Against pushback from some in the business community, officials said they did their best to mandate the changes incrementally.

“Northern California and Seattle are ahead of us on this, and the sky has not fallen in either of those places,” City Manager Rick Cole said in October. “There is no question it is harder on mom-and-pops, which is why we postponed implementation for [those businesses] for a year, and we will be working with them. But they also have to compete in the labor market.”